While just about all of you — wait, no, all of you are watching the Super Bowl, perhaps you caught at least part of the final round of the Waste Management Phoenix Open before firing up the grills and tapping the kegs. Well, if not, you didn’t miss much (besides James Hahn celebrating Gangnam Style on the 16th).
Phil Mickelson wrapped up the wire-to-wire victory, the first at this event since Steve Jones in ’97 and the first on Tour since Rory McIlroy at the ’11 U.S. Open. Which seemed like it was already a foregone conclusion late Saturday afternoon at TPC Scottsdale. After all, the ASU alum and former Scottsdale resident had a six-shot lead and “home-field” advantage.
Mickelson’s closest contender was Brandt Snedeker, who put on an admirable run, posting a final-round six-under 65. Turned out Snedeker would have had to match Phil’s incredible first-round 11-under 60 for the outright victory.
“It’s been a fun and special week and a challenging day, knowing I was going to have to make some birdies to keep pace with a charging Brandt Snedeker, and I was fortunate to hit some good shots on the back nine and do what I had to do to win the tournament,” said Phil, who notched his 41st PGA Tour victory, shooting a total of 28-under. (Yeah, wow.)
Brandt started out on the offensive, knocking it to 13 feet for birdie on the first hole. The notoriously rowdy Phoenix Open crowd responded with dead silence.
“You’ve got to enjoy it,” said Brandt, who knew he was the “visitor” in the situation. “I had fun with it. They weren’t necessarily rooting against me; they were just rooting for Phil. You have to enjoy the mentality of trying to make the crowd go a little quiet or trying to — it’s tough winning on top of Phil or whatever it was. You’ve got to really enjoy that opportunity and I felt I did a great job of that today.
Phil made some great shots, and I was able to answer them at certain points, but just couldn’t keep putting the pressure on him like I needed to.”
It looked like Brandt had a chance after he stuffed his tee shot on the par-3 7th to 10 feet, while Phil looked like he might three-put from 56 feet. But, naturally, Phil drained it, putting the pressure on Snedeker, who made his, as well.
“Are you kidding me?” said Brandt when asked for his reaction. “I fully expected Phil to hit a flop shot from there. He didn’t have much of a putt, and he putted through it. I hit a great shot in there close and I thought, hey, I can get one on him here and put some pressure on him. He makes that, and he let me hear about it before I putted, and he let me know that I needed to make that to tie.
“That’s Phil being Phil.”
Snedeker, the 2012 FedExCup champion, thought he might still have a shot when he made birdie at nine.
I thought when I got to 10, I had a great putt on 10 I thought was going to go in,” he said. “I thought if I had made that putt, you know, I think I would have gotten within two or three at that time, I thought it’s a fair ball game. Because a lot can happen with the next few holes.
“Just couldn’t seem to get that putt to get within two or one or whatever it was to make him really think about it.”
Interesting enough, due to the fog delays at Torrey Pines that forced a Monday finish, Snedeker finished second to Tiger Woods and Mickelson, who both put on dominant performances, in the same week.
Mickelson, who last won nearly a year ago at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, raved about the new driver he put in his bag. On Thursday he said it could be “revolutionary” for his game. What? Phil and fairways? He hit 32 out of 56 fairways, ranking T55 in the field this week, but the stats can be deceiving. He was in the first cut for a good number of the 24 he missed.
“This has been a driver in the works for months now,” said Mickelson, referring to his 9.5-degree loft Callaway Extreme Fit club. “We have identified what we needed to do, what direction we needed to do to be able to get me to make the same swing with my driver as the irons and hit it well, and I think we have accomplished that.
“I want to thank the technicians at Callaway for doing that, because it’s not easy. To be able to make a driver that spins this low with this much loft for me has never been done.
“I just think that you know, I don’t know if that’s why they call it Xtreme because it’s such an extremely low-spinning driver or not, but it’s been months in the works. And when I hit it Tuesday, I saw an immediate difference. I think that if you came out and watched, too, you saw how easy it was to get in the air, saw me make the same swing, and what you didn’t see was some of this tilty stuff you have seen in the past.”
What does this mean? Well, who knows. It reminds me a lot of his early victory last year at Pebble, where a revitalized Mickelson beat out Tiger in the final round. Despite losing in a three-way playoff the following week at the Northern Trust Open, not to mention a T3 finish at the Masters, he struggled from late spring to early summer, citing “mental fatigue.”
Meanwhile, Scott Piercy shot 10-under 61 to place solo third. Ryan Palmer posted nine-under 62 to finish fifth, his best since tying for third at last year’s FedEx St. Jude Classic in June.
Despite Palmer’s eagle and eight birdies, the highlight of his round came on the 16th when he took over the standard bearer’s duties. Keegan Bradley’s caddie, Steven “Pepsi” Hale, coordinated with James Edmonson, Palmer’s caddie, and they put their bibs on the kids who were carrying the scoreboard and had them race up the 16th. It was an “aw” moment.
And that’s it’s for now — it’s been real, Phoenix. See you next year. (Don’t worry, I’ll be at Pebble Beach.)
(AP Photo/Matt York)